Compellingly Self Indulgent
Prior to this review I spent a little time reading around various magazines and websites in an attempt to gauge the fan reaction to the latest Tool album 10,000 days. It can't be easy for a band to follow up the gargantuan 'Lateralus,' but then again that was the feeling when Tool had to follow on from the colossal 'Aenima.' With two mammoth albums that contained innovative, experimental, progressive and thought provoking rock, the biggest question on my mind was, "what are Tool going to come up with next." Certainly for this reviewer the expectations were high, and rightly so, the band have had five years to write 10,000 days, and considering the quality of their back catalogue, the feeling was that this new album was going to lead them to world domination.
The pre-album reading was fascinating and two salient points started to emerge. The first was that this album was good, but these opinions were of the fans who think Tool can do no wrong, caught up in the hype and excitement, dazzled by the album's imagery and freshness. The second point was from people who complained that '10,000 Days' showed a lack of progression, and could very well be a Siamese extension of 'Lateralus.' After numerous listens I think both points are valid but it does demonstrate that Tool are playing a dangerous game.
Tool aren't exactly the most prolific of artists, it's easy to forget that 10,000 days is only their 4th full length release in 13 years (not including Opiate). Many bands are just finding their own individual style by the fourth album and it could be argued that Tool are no different. This could explain '10,000 days' similarity in feel and production to 'Lateralus'. Tool may have carved a niche for themselves, and whereas every previous album has progressed from it's predessessor, '10,000 Days' doesn't push the boundaries as much because the band are happy with their current style. After shifting three million copies of their last album the thinking must have been, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
It's all very well spending four or five years per album, as long as the quality is good and you're showing a natural progression. Then, when you release an album, it's seen as an event rather than a band just churning out another record. The downside to this is your original fan-base sometimes grows apart from the band, because the band aren't keeping the fans interested due to the lack of output. When the band finally releases an album that sounds very similar to the previous disc, a certain section of the fans will be disgruntled, complaining that they've been waiting 5 years for an album that sounds exactly like the material they've done before, and shown little in the way of imagination or progression. This is the dangerous game Tool are playing and a little of the feeling I have gotten from reading various opinions in the rock media.
Taking the lack of development into account, there's no mistaking that '10,000 Days' is a good album. The production is a carbon copy of Lateralous, clear, subtle yet powerful allowing the heavy parts to have much more impact when mixed with Tool's own delicate style. 'Vicarious' is totally Tool and a first rate rocker and is similar in charm to such previous cuts as 'Schism' and 'Hooker with a penis'. The awesome 'Jambi' gives '10,000 Days' a more 'immediate' feel than Lateralous as the innovative rhythmical riff washes across the room. 'The Pot' could have easily come from 'Undertow' and the title track is Tool at their sublime best. However, this track is followed by the pointless 'Lipan Conjuring' and then the increasingly annoying 'Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann).' These two tracks start the beginning of the end as 'Roseta Stoned' chops its unmelodious and incoherent way across the airwaves. It's a disappointing overblown epic lacking in direction, sounding like Tool in automatic mode. (Except the 3 second riff at 4:48 which is spellbinding, it's a pity it wasn't used more often) 'Intension' is as dull as they come, and 'Right in Two,' although pleasant enough, fails to live up to the standard of the first five tracks. Last song 'Viginti Tres' is a waste of 5 minutes of anyone's time. Why bands feel the need to put a track of weird noises on an album is anyone's guess. It, like a couple of others on this album, wreaks of padding in an effort it get it up to the seventy-five minute mark.
The packaging is as inventive and crazy as ever which also expands on the Lateralous imagery. I have to admit to a certain amount of embarrassment as I looked through the special goggles at the 3D images of the band. A good and novel idea even if it did feel like I was looking through a 1970's photo slide viewer. However once you've done it once there's no real desire to do it again, and no doubt the album will end up on a shelf away from your CD collection because it's too big for the rack.
The whole debate on whether you're going to like this album depends on whether yourself, as a Tool fan, have moved on into other musical climates in between the half decade it's taken the band to write this new album. This disc is full of the progressive and creative ideas you expect from Tool and for someone who's unaware of the musical talents of this band, '10,000 Days' is a perfect place to start. If released in 2002 or 2003 when 'Lateralous' was still fresh in people's minds, Tool could have been staring mega stardom in the face. As it stands this long player could see some of their fan-base leave for pastures new. If they can't find any musical satisfaction from '10,000 Days' then I think it's unlikely they'll stick around until 2011 to see what Tool come up with next.